A well-crafted debut that is held back by some forgettable moments.
Bristolian singer/songwriter Lauren Aquilina began her career aged 13 by putting videos on YouTube and later became inspired to write her own material by influences ranging from Coldplay to house music. Her tastes soon adapted to include Annie Lennox, Ellie Goulding, and Bon Iver, and it is these that are more prevalent within her current repertoire. After a quartet of annual EPs stretching back to 2012’s Fools, full-length debut Isn’t It Strange? is a pleasant debut.
There tends to be a stereotype and dialogue around teenagers and young adults not really knowing what love is, being perpetually too immature to understand it. Now 21, Aquilina destroys that idea with her writing, particularly in how way she sings about the fear and apprehension of trusting someone in a new relationship, or of having your head filled by thoughts of not thinking about someone.
Lead single ‘Kicks’ has a vibe of someone who’s been manipulated, with Aquilina singing “you’ve been using me to get what you need.” It’s all very nice and empowering, with an ultimately liberating realisation coming at the end of the refrain. ‘Wicked Game’ too is well done: “He said he didn’t do commitment / With tattoos on his skin / Maybe I wasn’t worth the pain / Nobody taught me how to play this wicked game.” Lyrically the record does get rather repetitive, with stripped-back vocal-and-piano track ‘Thinking About’ the most notable song to go on a bit too long. That said, the repetition of ‘All I’m thinking about is not thinking about you’ does mimic the meaning. In moments like ‘Ocean’ where a lot more happens in the production, the result is far better thanks to the distractions from the words despite these being simpler .
Closer ‘Ocean’ is a definite standout, pushing the boundaries of what Aquilina normally does. It begins almost sounding immersed before an eruption of guitars, drums, and backing vocals really showcases what she is capable of. Its production is quite phenomenal, making what could otherwise have been mere filler sound incredible. Its messages are emotive, full of talk on jealousy and feeling trapped, and of how “[she]lost [her]head somewhere between the surface and the seabed.”
Overwhelmingly, Isn’t It Strange? is incredibly safe with a scatter of standout tracks, and of course safe isn’t necessarily bad. It slinks casually into pop compilations and playlists whilst retaining its meaningful undertones, and fans of indie-tinged acts like Halsey, Foxes, and Tom Odell will find a lot to be satisfied with. Still just beginning to hone her craft, Aquilina’s standard of songwriting and production will only strengthen from this over time.
Isn’t It Strange? is released on August 26th by Island Records